Essential Pet Care

This page is intended as a guide to the essential aspects of looking after a pet, whatever its species. All creatures great and small have basic requirements for life! This page is designed to help you to give your pet everything it needs in terms of creature comforts, ensuring that it lives within the Five Freedoms.

The five freedoms were originally set out to ensure that production animals’ welfare was enhanced during life, travel and at slaughter.  However, these guidelines provide the basis of all animals’ requirements and are now applied to any domesticated animal. This applies to pets, agricultural animals and collections such as zoo animals. The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 sets the text for these freedoms, and more information can be found on the DEFRA website.

What are the Five Freedoms?

  1. Freedom from thirst and hunger – by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

Some of these essential requirements are easy to fulfil, but some are less so! Thought should be given to how you will ensure that your pet has the most settled life possible.

Fulfilling essential needs

So what do you need to get started?  We have split this page up by species to make things easier for you to find.  If you need further help after reading this page, please do not hesitate to contact us!

 

Species

Dogs

Cats

Ferrets

Rabbits, guinea-pigs, degus, chinchillas

Rodents: gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters

Snakes

Lizards

Tortoises

Terrapins and turtles

Birds: poultry

Birds: parrots and other psittacines

Birds: finches and other passerines

 

Dogs

1. A complete dog food is essential for your pet’s health and well-being.

Wet or dry food is acceptable: if using wet food, you will need to brush your pet’s teeth frequently. If using dry food, remember that it will expand in your pet’s stomach! Avoid feeding large volumes in any single meal and always make sure fresh water is available. We recommend Royal Canin and Hills but many brands are acceptable – just make sure it suits your companion.  Some dogs may prefer meals, some may prefer to graze: either is fine!

2. Food bowls must be provided in the interest of hygiene.

They must be kept clean between meals to prevent build-up of bacteria and moulds that can be detrimental to your pet’s health.

3. Fresh water must be available at all times.

Ensure that the bowl is cleaned regularly to avoid the build-up of debris and bacteria.  Some dogs may prefer to drink from garden water sources e.g. puddles and ponds. If your dog prefers this, ensure no algae is growing in these areas, or try leaving the water bowl out for 48 hours before changing the water. Tap water has added fluoride to help with our dental health, but it can be an unpleasant taste for our canine companions! Fluoride breaks down readily and will be almost gone after 24 hours of leaving water to stand.

4. A comfortable bed should be provided

This should be one that can be easily washed, ideally at a high temperature (for those unfortunate occasions when your pet is ill).  Try to avoid sharing a bed with your dog! Although it can be warm and comfortable for you both, bedrooms are very dusty places. If you or your pet suffers with asthma or allergies, you will be best off sleeping in separate rooms.

5. All dogs are legally required to wear a collar with an identification tag and to have a microchip implanted.

The identification tag should include your pet’s name, a contact number and address.  Try to avoid adding too much personal information (this can be used by less moral people holding pets to ransom)! The microchip contains a code for a number.  When scanned, this number gives access to your personal information, kept by the microchip company. This information will only be accessed by authorized persons i.e. your vet, a rescue centre or the police.

6. Many dogs will walk very well at heel, but it is a good idea to keep a lead or harness to hand!

You may need firmer control of your pet at times, for example, to pull them away from a less friendly dog.  If your companion weighs less than 12kg, please always use a harness. Pulling on a lead attached to the collar or neck will inflict a small whiplash injury each time, even with very light pressure.

7. If your pet will be travelling by car, please ensure that they comply with the law during these times.

A car harness can be purchased that allows them to wear a seatbelt, or if travelling in the boot of the car, a dog guard must be fitted to prevent your friend from being propelled over the top of the seats and through the windscreen in the event of an accident.  Alternatively a car crate may be used.

8. Regular health care: your dog will need vaccinations every year and will receive a full health check at this time.

However, we recommend six monthly check-ups – particularly in our older companions or those with on-going conditions – as a minimum to keep up-to-date with your pet’s health.  Ensure that you bring your pet in whenever a problem presents itself – we wouldn’t wait to go to the doctor ourselves, and would dread to make our children wait, so please apply the same thought process to your loving friend!

9. Doggie toothbrush and toothpaste:

It is essential to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to keep their mouth free from disease and pain.  Many dogs tolerate this well if introduced to this from a young age.  Be prepared for dental treatment as needed, which could be on an annual or even six-monthly basis if your pet is not amenable to having its teeth brushed or has an on-going condition!

10. Regular exercise:

Obesity is a clinical condition that falls well and truly within the remit of the five freedoms.  If you are unable to walk your pet, please make provisions for somebody else to exercise him or her for you.  Dogs should be walked at least twice a day, at a brisk pace, for at least 20 minutes each time.  Of course, different breeds have different exercise requirements and this is only a guideline – for more detailed information on a specific breed, please feel free to contact us.

Standing and chatting to your friends whilst the dogs play together is enjoyable and an important part of your dog’s socialization, but frequently does not provide them with enough exercise.  If they are running around constantly at high speed, this is fine, but few of us have dogs that amuse themselves for so long!  They want to play with you, their companions, as well as their canine friends.  Throwing a ball (of suitable size) or other toy (no sticks or jagged items, please) can provide ample exercise for your pet and gives them more bonding time with you.

Please also remember to bring poo bags out with you and to use the provided bins, unless you are fortunate enough to walk in an area without fouling restrictions.

11. Be prepared to deal with any emotional problems your pet may demonstrate.

Frequently encountered examples include fear of thunder or fireworks.  There are many strategies for dealing with these things, including clothing items, calming medications and sedatives. Please contact us for advice if you are worried about your pet.
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Cats

1. A complete cat food is essential for your pet’s health and well-being.

Wet or dry food is acceptable: if using wet food, you will need to brush your pet’s teeth frequently; if using dry food, remember that it will expand in your pet’s stomach, so avoid feeding large volumes and always make sure fresh water is available.

We recommend Royal Canin and Hills but many brands are acceptable – just make sure it suits your companion.  Some cats may prefer meals, some may prefer to graze: either is fine!

2. Food bowls must be provided.

These must be kept clean between meals to prevent build-up of bacteria and moulds that can be detrimental to your pet’s health.

3. Fresh water must be available at all times.

Ensure that the bowl is cleaned regularly to avoid build-up of debris and bacteria.  Some cats can be very fussy and may prefer to drink from garden water sources e.g. puddles and ponds – if your cat prefers this, ensure no algae is growing in these areas, or try leaving the water bowl out for 48 hours before changing the water.

Tap water has fluoride added to help with our dental health, but it can be an unpleasant taste for our feline companions! Fluoride breaks down readily and will be almost gone after 24 hours of leaving water to stand.  Other cats may prefer to drink from a source of running water, and a cat fountain can be invaluable in these cases.  Others may only drink from a glass or a cup of water.  Ensure that you watch your pet closely to find their preference, and do not be afraid to try lots of different methods!  If your pet prefers wet food, they may not drink a great deal because most of their water will come in their food.

4. A comfortable bed should be provided.

This should be one that can be easily washed, ideally at a high temperature (for those unfortunate occasions when your pet is ill).  Try to avoid sharing a bed with your cat – although it can be warm and comfortable for you both, bedrooms are very dusty places and if you or your pet suffers with asthma or allergies, you will be best off sleeping in separate rooms.

5. There are no legislative requirements for identifying cats.

However, we strongly recommend having a microchip placed if your cat will be going outside at all, even if just in the garden.  It only takes a loud noise to spook them, and if they run away and get lost, there is no way of identifying your pet or reuniting you with them if they do not have a microchip.

Collars are a controversial subject: if you decide your cat will wear a collar, please only purchase the quick release style collar.  Collars may become caught on trees, items of furniture etc., and if there is no quick release, your pet may be strangled.  If your pet is wearing a collar, please ensure you purchase the right size and that it is not too tight – the collar should not cause the fur to be rubbed away.

6. Litter trays:

Even if your cat is an outdoor cat, he or she may well prefer not to have to go outside when it is pouring with rain and cold, especially if you have a geriatric pet.  Outdoor cats are unlikely to use the litter tray for the majority of the year, but cats suffer with (and very effectively hide) stress, which can be brought on simply by not having enough options.  Cats can be fussy with litter, so try out several types before selecting a final brand for your companion.

Bear in mind that cats do not like to eat and drink in the same place, but they detest having toilet facilities next to their dinner plate – who wouldn’t?  Litter trays must be kept in a separate location to the food and water bowls.  If you have more than one cat, the general rule for a happy household is to have one litter tray per cat, plus one spare.  These should be placed in different locations: cats are largely solitary beings by nature, and even a dearly loved sibling can be a trying individual to tolerate when sharing a toilet!

7. Scratching positions:

Cats like to keep their claws sharp (and contrary to popular belief, they are sharpening their claws on these, not filing them down) but need appropriate materials to do so. Outdoors, they may well use a tree, but indoors some of the best material is carpet.  If you have stairs, consider covering the end of the banister with an off-cut to protect your furniture!  Many scratching post toys are commercially available.

8. If your cat will be travelling in the car:

Please ensure that they are secure to prevent them being launched through the windscreen in case of an accident, or escaping from an open window.  Cat carriers are commercially available and can easily have a seatbelt fed through them to keep your friend safe.  Alternatively a small pet crate may be used.

9. Regular health care:

Your cat will need vaccinations every year and will receive a full health check at this time. However, we recommend six monthly check-ups – particularly in our older companions or those with on-going conditions – as a minimum to keep up-to-date with your pet’s health.  Ensure that you bring your pet in whenever a problem presents itself – we wouldn’t wait to go to the doctor ourselves, and would dread to make our children wait, so please apply the same thought process to your cherished companion!

10. Cat toothbrush and toothpaste:

It is essential to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis to keep their mouth free from disease and pain.  Many cats tolerate this well if introduced to this from a young age.  Be prepared for dental treatment as needed, which could be on an annual or even six-monthly basis if your pet is not amenable to having its teeth brushed or has an on-going condition!

Some cats may develop an auto-immune condition that causes their body to attack their tooth roots. This is extremely painful but will not cause your pet to stop eating, so may be difficult for you to spot.  We will always check for this during an examination, and if found, will very likely be recommending removal of the affected teeth.

11. Regular exercise:

Obesity is a clinical condition that falls well and truly within the remit of the five freedoms.  It is very difficult to make a cat exercise in the way that we would a dog, although some cats are very amenable to wearing a harness and going for a walk!  Cats spend a lot of time sleeping, but many love to play with toys such as light sources (please ensure these are never shone directly into their eyes) or toys on the end of a string (please ensure they never eat the string).

Dedicating an hour of your day to play with your pet will dramatically increase their energy levels and help to prevent weight gain, as well as providing quality time for you to enjoy each other’s company.  If you are struggling with getting your cat to exercise, please contact us for advice and suggestions.

12. Be prepared to deal with any emotional problems your pet may demonstrate.

Frequently encountered examples include fear of thunder or fireworks, and stress related to living with other pets (even a seemingly loved sibling).  There are many strategies for dealing with these things, including calming medications, pheromone emitters, strategies for feeding time and litter box placement, and sedatives. Please contact us for advice if you are worried about your pet.
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Ferrets

The points for cats are applicable to ferrets, but it should be noted that it is normal for a ferret to sleep for eighteen hours a day!  However, they should be very active for the remaining time and are extremely sociable animals so must have company and a variety of toys to keep them occupied.

Please ensure you have a well secured area for them to play in: they are intelligent, dextrous and extremely good at escaping!  Ferrets do not need so many litter trays as domestic cats do, but keeping several per group is still a good idea to minimise competition and stress.
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Rabbits, guinea-pigs, degus, chinchillas

 

1. Good quality food that is species-specific:

We have recommended foods on our diet page to help with your selection process.  It is important to ensure that your small mammal receives plenty of vitamins and minerals.  Ideally, food should be dispersed to encourage foraging, but if using bowls, please ensure that they are cleaned on a daily basis.

2. Grass and hay

These are essential for your pet and should form over 80% of their diet.  Please see our diet page for more information.

3. Fresh water

This must be available and accessible at all times.  Small mammals frequently find using a water bottle difficult – no wild small animal will crane its head at an odd position to drink if there is a ground source available!  Please offer water in a bowl instead of or as well as a water bottle.

Bottles and bowls should be cleaned regularly to avoid build-up of algea and bacteria that can cause ill health or block the water bottle spout.  Ideally, water should be left to stand for a day before being offered to your pet to allow the fluoride (in tap water) to break down.

4. A hutch or cage of suitable size should be available.

Guinea-pig and degu cages must be raised from the floor to avoid them becoming damp; all enclosures must have shelter from the elements.  Chinchillas need huge spaces to spring around in, and their cages must provide height as well as floor area.

Please contact us if you are thinking of purchasing any of these species for more information.  Rabbits need at least one raised area to sit in.  All species should have a separate bedroom area to the communal social area. Housing should be cleaned out well on a regular basis, ideally on a daily basis, but a deep clean should be done at least twice a week.  Litter training is possible in most species.

5. Do not be tempted to house different species together!

This is a cause of tremendous stress to your pets, who will not show you outwardly that they are suffering. Rabbits and guinea-pigs are a common mix, but guinea-pigs are bullied badly by rabbits, and if mounted by rabbits, the internal injuries suffered by guinea-pigs can be fatal.

6. Space to exercise:

Ideally all species should have plenty of space available in a garden or somewhere with access to fresh grass. However, house pets and those living in areas of concrete etc. are very happy providing they have space to run around and you provide hay or grass ad libitum!

Exercise is extremely important to help stimulate gut movement and prevent obesity: these animals would forage all day in the wild so require huge amounts of exercise.

7. Sand bath:

Chinchillas in particular need daily bathing in rough material to promote skin and hair health and to encourage normal social behaviour.

8. Environmental enrichment:

Hiding places are essential for all of these species, whether indoor or outdoor, and help to dramatically reduce stress. Hides can range from commercially available products to bits of old drain pipe or flower pots.  A variety of toys should also be provided, ideally of a type that can be gnawed on.

9. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your dog or cat with your small mammal when unsupervised – although they may be the best of friends, instinct is strong in predatory species and it only takes one slip for your dog or cat to kill your small pet – and it will not be their fault!

10. Regular health care:

Rabbits need vaccinations every year and will receive a full health check at this time. However, we recommend bi-annual check-ups as a bare minimum for all species to keep up-to-date with general health, and especially for dental health.  These animals are prey species and are designed to hide any signs of ill health until they cannot keep going any longer.

If you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Rodents: gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters

 

1. Good quality food that is species-specific:

We have recommended foods on our diet page to help with your selection process.  It is important to ensure that your pet receives plenty of vitamins and minerals.  Ideally, food should be dispersed to encourage foraging, but if using bowls, please ensure that they are cleaned on a daily basis.

2. Fresh water must be available and accessible at all times.

Small mammals frequently find using a water bottle difficult – no wild small animal will crane its head at an odd position to drink if there is a ground source available!  Please offer water in a bowl instead of or as well as a water bottle.  Bottles and bowls should be cleaned regularly to avoid build-up of algea and bacteria that can cause ill health or block the water bottle spout.

3. A hutch or cage of suitable size should be available.

Please contact us if you are thinking of purchasing any of these species for more information.  Gerbils will need plenty of height as well as floor area and love to rearrange their houses on a regular basis – do not be offended if they change your set-up!  All species require different levels to move between, and as much space as possible should be provided.

4. Space to exercise:

Exercise is extremely important to prevent obesity and diabetes mellitus, and to promote natural behaviour.  These animals would forage all day in the wild so require huge amounts of exercise.  Try to avoid wheels – they are detrimental to spinal health and if your pet has difficulty getting off again, have been known to cause fatalities.

5. Environmental enrichment:

Hiding places are essential for all of these species, whether indoor or outdoor, and help to dramatically reduce stress. Hides can range from commercially available products to bits of old drain pipe, flower pots, or old toilet rolls.  A variety of toys should also be provided, ideally that can be gnawed on.

6. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your dog or cat with your small mammal when unsupervised – although they may be the best of friends, instinct is strong in predatory species and it only takes one slip for your dog or cat to kill your small pet – and it will not be their fault!  Never leave your pet in an exercise ball in plain view of a predator.

7. Regular health care:

We recommend six monthly check-ups as a bare minimum for all species to keep up-to-date with their general health.  These animals are prey species and are designed to hide any signs of ill health until they cannot keep going any longer.  If you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Snakes

 

1. A suitable food source for the size of your snake.

It is illegal to provide live food in the UK. All food should be thoroughly defrosted overnight in warm water before feeding, and ideally warmed a little before being offered.  Different snakes have different taste buds, so try a variety of species.  Ensure food is of good quality. Day-old chicks no not provide a balanced diet.  Care must be taken with food hygiene to avoid food poisoning – for you and your pet!

2. A water source must be available and should be large enough for your snake to sit in, if desired.

Not all snakes will drink – the majority of their fluid intake comes from their prey – but they should have the facility to do so, if desired. Water soaks will also help with shedding. Water baths should be appropriate to species type (fresh water, brackish water etc.) – please contact us for more information on this.

3. Vivariums:

These should be large enough to provide a heat and humidity gradient. There should be space to allow your pet to move around, and they must have adequate ventilation.  Snakes are sometimes kept in drawer systems: whilst these may provide enough space for very young snakes, ventilation, heat and humidity are often compromised and these systems cannot be condoned as a long-term option.

Substrates vary widely and many are suitable, but please check any wood chips used are not toxic for your pet. For more information or to chat about options, please do not hesitate to contact us. Vivariums should be cleaned thoroughly with a quaternary ammonium compound on a regular basis.

4. Environmental enrichment:

Hides are essential for your pet to allow them to relax and feel secure.  Try to make the vivarium environment as close to the natural environment as possible. Sphagnum moss may be useful to help with shedding.

5. Heat

Heat must be supplied and thermometers fitted to ensure a correct gradient is maintained. Bulbs must be covered with a guard to prevent your pet from sustaining thermal burns.  Heated rocks can easily cause burns if not on a thermostat and may be best avoided.

A hot spot should be available at one end of the vivarium under the heat bulb, with the opposite end of the vivarium offering cooler climbs. Heat and light sources should be separate to allow heating without lighting the area over night. Not all species are blind to infra-red light.

6. Ultraviolet light should be provided.

Although some snakes have been proven to make their own calcium, research does not exist for all species and the role of ultraviolet light in snake health is largely unknown.  We fully corroborate natural environments wherever possible, which means exposing your pet to UV light. Bulbs should be replaced every 6 months and should be covered with a guard and a reflector to prevent thermal burns and damage to your eyes.  Bulbs should be of the correct intensity for your pet’s species environment, and must be placed at a position above your pet so that the beams shine down (like sunlight).

If the bulb is too close to your pet’s line of vision and shines into their eyes, blindness may eventually result – it would be like staring at the sun for a long period of time.

7. A humidity gradient must be maintained that is appropriate for your pet’s species.

Desert species need very little moisture whilst tropical species must not dry out.  Fitting hygrometers at both ends of the vivarium will allow monitoring of the gradient.  Sphagnum moss may be useful in providing an area of higher humidity – please contact us for more information.

8. Ventilation

This is absolutely essential for the health of any snake, and poor ventilation is frequently the cause of respiratory infection.  Ventilation is not, however, to be confused with air movement. Adding a fan to the room will not improve the ventilation, it will simply push contaminated air around the room!  A source of fresh air should be supplied without compromising the heat or humidity gradients – please contact us for more information.

9. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your dog or cat with your snake when unsupervised – although they may seem indifferent to each other, instinct is strong in predatory species.  It will only take one slip-up for your dog or cat to kill your snake, or in some cases, for your snake to eat your dog or cat!

10. Regular health care:

We recommend six monthly check-ups for all species to keep up-to-date with their general health.  Snakes will hide any signs of ill health until they cannot keep going any longer, so if you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Lizards

1. A suitable food source for your lizard’s species:

Please check the nutritional requirements of your pet carefully or contact us for advice.  Juvenile lizards need more protein than adults and diets may change with age.  Adult Bearded Dragons should have a diet of over 85% vegetation, whilst younger individuals should have around 90% insects.  Green iguanas are strict vegetarians and feeding protein sources such as chicken and crab sticks can be extremely detrimental to their health.

Food should ideally be dispersed to encourage foraging, but please ensure any bowls used are cleaned thoroughly with a quaternary ammonium compound.

2. A supply of vitamins and minerals:

These should include calcium and may be given either by gut loading insects, dusting food, or providing powders in a bowl for your pet to lick. Ensure your pet does receive these supplements in one form or another to avoid profound ill health developing over time.

3. A water source must be available and should be large enough for your pet to sit in, if desired.

Not all lizards will drink – the majority of their fluid intake may come from their diet – but they should have the facility to do so, if desired. Water soaks will also help with shedding. Water baths should be appropriate to species type (fresh water, brackish water etc.) – please contact us for more information on this.  Arboreal species may drink from branches and may need regular spraying or a dripper system.

4. Vivariums or enclosures

These should be large enough to provide a heat and humidity gradient. There should be room to allow your pet to move around, and they must have adequate ventilation.  Substrates vary widely and many are suitable, but please check any wood chips used are not toxic for your pet. For more information or to chat about options, please do not hesitate to contact us. Housing areas should be cleaned thoroughly with a quaternary ammonium compound on a regular basis.  Arboreal species will need height as well as floor space.

5. Space to exercise:

Lizards are often very active individuals and may travel large distances on a daily basis in the wild, so exercise is extremely important.  If the vivarium is not large enough to allow exercise, provisions should be made for supervised exercise sessions in warm areas elsewhere on a daily basis.

6. Environmental enrichment:

Hides are essential for your pet to allow them to relax and feel secure.  Try to make the vivarium environment as close to the natural environment as possible. Sphagnum moss may be useful to help with shedding.

7. Heat must be supplied and thermometers fitted to ensure a correct gradient is maintained.

Bulbs must be covered with a guard to prevent your pet from sustaining thermal burns.  Heated rocks can easily cause burns if not on a thermostat and may be best avoided. If using heat mats, fit them in an appropriate place for the species (on the wall for arboreal species or on the floor for ground-dwellers) and ideally use thermostats.  A hot spot should be available at one end of the vivarium under the heat bulb, with the opposite end of the vivarium offering cooler climbs. Heat and light sources should be separate to allow heating without lighting the area over night. Not all species are blind to infra-red light.

8. Ultraviolet light should be provided for all species.

The role of ultraviolet light in reptile health is largely unknown, but it is essential in diurnal species to allow calcium uptake from the diet and production within the body.  We fully corroborate natural environments wherever possible. This means exposing your pet to UV light during the day, even if it is a nocturnal species. Bulbs should be replaced every 6 months and should be covered with a guard and a reflector to prevent thermal burns to your pet and damage to your eyes.  Bulbs should be of the correct intensity for your pet’s species environment, and should be separate from the heat source.

UV light should be available whilst your pet is eating and digesting (for diurnal species).  Bulbs must be placed at a position above your pet so that the beams shine down (like sunlight).  If the bulb is too close to your pet’s line of vision and shines into their eyes, blindness may eventually result – it would be like staring at the sun for a long period of time.

9. A humidity gradient must be maintained that is appropriate for your pet’s species.

Desert species need very little moisture whilst tropical species must not dry out.  Fitting hygrometers at both ends of the vivarium will allow monitoring of the gradient.  Sphagnum moss may be useful in providing an area of higher humidity – please contact us for more information.

10. Ventilation

This is absolutely essential for the health of any lizard, and poor ventilation is frequently the cause of respiratory infection.  Ventilation is not, however, to be confused with air movement. Adding a fan to the room will not improve the ventilation, it will simply push contaminated air around the room!  A source of fresh air should be supplied without compromising the heat or humidity gradients. Please contact us for more information.

11. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your dog or cat with your lizard when unsupervised: it will only take one slip-up for your dog or cat to kill a small lizard, and large species such as iguanas and monitors can inflict severe damage on your dog or cat!

12. Regular health care:

We recommend six monthly check-ups for all species to keep up-to-date with their general health.  Lizards hide any signs of ill health until they cannot keep going any longer, so if you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Tortoises

1. A suitable food source for your tortoise’s species:

Please check the nutritional requirements of your pet carefully or contact us for advice.  Many tortoises are vegetarian and require very low levels of proteinaceous food in their diets. However, there are some species that may eat carrion.  Food should be dispersed over a wide area to encourage foraging. If bowls are used, please ensure that they are cleaned thoroughly with a quaternary ammonium compound.  As a guide, a [vegetarian] tortoise should eat a pile of grasses and weeds roughly the same size as its body each day.

2. A supply of vitamins and minerals:

This should include calcium, they may be given by dusting food with the supplement. Be aware that many tortoises will not eat the food if they see you applying them!  Some tortoises may lick vitamin blocks or eat grated (or whole) cuttlefish. Ensure your pet does receive these supplements in one form or another to avoid profound ill health developing over time.

3. A water source must be available:

Tortoises do need to drink on a regular basis!  Desert species require less water than tropical species, but water should be provided for all species.  In order to drink, a tortoise needs to be able to fully submerge its head in the water, so a bowl will not be adequate.  Tortoises should instead be bathed in hand hot water that comes up to the top of the first line of scutes (shell segments) from the floor, or to the top of the ‘skirt’.  The water must be deep enough to allow the head to be fully submerged, but shallow enough to allow your pet to lift its head from the water easily.

Baths should last for around 10-15 minutes, or until the water cools.  Your tortoise is likely to pass urates in the bath – this will happen once they are fully hydrated, so they should be removed from the bath at this time and not left to sit in contaminated water.  A permanent bath may be provided so long as a suitable ramp is in place to facilitate getting in and out – this must allow suitable grip for your pet.

4. Vivariums or enclosures:

These should be large enough to provide a heat and humidity gradient. There should be space to allow your pet to move around, and they must have adequate ventilation.  Substrates vary widely and many are suitable, but please check any wood chips used are not toxic for your pet. For more information or to chat about options, please do not hesitate to contact us. Housing areas should be cleaned thoroughly with a quaternary ammonium compound on a regular basis.  If a tortoise table is used, it is a good idea to provide a box area with a heat source inside – otherwise, heat will simply dissipate and your pet will be too cold on an almost permanent basis.

5. Space to exercise:

Tortoises can travel large distances on a daily basis in the wild depending on the species, so exercise is extremely important.  If the housing is not large enough to allow exercise, provisions should be made for supervised exercise sessions in warm areas elsewhere on a daily basis.

6. Environmental enrichment:

Hides are essential for your pet to allow them to relax and feel secure.  Try to make the vivarium environment as close to the natural environment as possible. Tortoises like to hide in grasses and thorn thickets that allow dappled light through naturally, so supplying handfuls of dried grasses can be a good idea.

7. Heat must be supplied and thermometers fitted to ensure a correct gradient is maintained:

Bulbs must be covered with a guard to prevent your pet from sustaining thermal burns. Tortoises will try to climb most things, so do not be fooled into thinking your tortoise will not be tall enough to touch the bulb!  Heated rocks can easily cause burns if not on a thermostat and may be best avoided. Heat mats can be ideal for tortoises and should be placed on the floor – these should be used with a thermostat.  A hot spot should be available at one end of the vivarium under the heat bulb, with the opposite end of the vivarium offering cooler climbs.

Heat and light sources should be separate to allow heating without lighting the area over night. Tortoises can see infra-red light so these bulbs are not appropriate.

8. Ultraviolet light:

This should be provided for all species because it is essential for calcium uptake from the diet and its production within the body.  It also plays a large part in maintaining health and happiness and speeding healing, although the mechanisms for these processes are unknown.  UV bulbs should be replaced every 6 months and should be covered with a guard and a reflector. This is to prevent thermal burns to your pet and damage to your eyes.  Bulbs should be of the correct intensity for your pet’s species environment, and should be separate from the heat source.

UV light must be available whilst your pet is eating and digesting (for diurnal species), and must be placed at a position above your pet so that the beams shine down (like sunlight).  If the bulb is too close to your pet’s line of vision and shines into their eyes, blindness may eventually result – it would be like staring at the sun for a long period of time.

9. A humidity gradient must be maintained that is appropriate for your pet’s species:

Desert species need very little moisture whilst tropical species must not dry out.  Fitting hygrometers at both ends of the enclosure will allow monitoring of the gradient.  Sphagnum moss may be useful in providing an area of higher humidity if required – please contact us for more information.  Prolonged periods of high humidity with poor ventilation can cause chronic pneumonia in these species, so regular air movement is also essential.

10. Ventilation

This is absolutely essential for your tortoise’s health, and poor ventilation is frequently the cause of respiratory infection.  Ventilation is not, however, to be confused with air movement. Adding a fan to the room will not improve the ventilation, it will simply push contaminated air around the room!  A source of fresh air should be supplied without compromising the heat or humidity gradients, and without causing a draft to flow over your pet – please contact us for more information.

11. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your dog or cat with your tortoise when unsupervised. Dogs in particular often view tortoises as a chewy toy or moving bone, and it only takes one lapse in attention for your dog to inflict often life-threatening injuries or even eat a tortoise completely.  Even dogs that have ignored tortoises for years may slip up and chew your tortoise – it is a natural behaviour so the responsibility for vigilance lies with you, the owner!

12. Regular health care:

We recommend six monthly check-ups for all species to keep up-to-date with their general health.  Tortoises take a long time to demonstrate any signs of ill health, but by the time that they do, damage has frequently already been done.  The recovery period is even slower, so if you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Terrapins and turtles

1. A suitable food source for your pet’s species.

Please check the nutritional requirements of your pet carefully or contact us for advice.  Diets should be varied: feeding prawns every day is both a nutritionally deficient diet in many cases and also provides too much fat.  Terrapins and turtles often have specific taste preferences, so try to provide as many natural foods that would be available to that species in the wild as you can.  Providing a good quality diet is provided, supplements should not be required in these species.

2. Water quality must be kept at a high level for these species, which means regular water quality testing should be performed.

Ensure that you provide the correct water type for your species – salt water turtles will not survive in fresh water for long and vice versa.  Water sources should be well oxygenated and kept clean from food debris.  It is a good idea to feed your terrapin or turtle in a separate container to the living space if possible. This so that the permanent water source remains clean and the feeding tank can be thoroughly cleaned. If this is not possible, ensure that your pet is not over-fed – surplus food will start to degrade and bacteria and fungi will accumulate in the water.

3. Space to exercise:

Turtles and terrapins can travel large distances on a daily basis in the wild depending on the species, so exercise is extremely important.  They should have plenty of space to swim. If the housing is not large enough to allow exercise, provisions should be made for supervised exercise sessions in warm areas elsewhere on a daily basis.

4. Environmental enrichment:

Hides are essential for your pet to allow them to relax and feel secure.  Try to make the vivarium environment as close to the natural environment as possible. Tortoises like to hide in grasses and thorn thickets that allow dappled light through naturally, so supplying handfuls of dried grasses can be a good idea.

5. Heating

This should be provided to the water for those species that need a warmer water climate. A water-safe thermometer should be used to ensure the temperature is constant.  A dry area should be provided that your tortoise or terrapin can easily access via a ramp, and this area should be heated with a heat bulb so that your pet can bask.  Bulbs should be covered with a guard to prevent your pet from sustaining thermal burns. Pay particular care to ensure that and any wires are well away from any water sources. Heat mats and other supplementary heating items should not be used.  Heat and light sources should be separate to allow heating without lighting the area over night.

6. Ultraviolet light

This should be provided for all species and tank lighting is readily available from many pet shops.  UV bulbs should be replaced every 6 months.  UV light must be available whilst your pet is eating and digesting but should be turned off over night.

7. Safety from predators, including your pets, at all times.

Never leave your pet open to attacks from a dog or cat that decides to go fishing!  Tanks should be secure at all times, including the basking area.

8. Regular health care:

We recommend six monthly check-ups for all species to keep up-to-date with their general health.  If you notice any change in your pet, please bring them for a check-up as soon as possible.
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Birds: Poultry

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Birds: Parrots and other psittacines


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1. A balanced diet complete with vitamins and minerals is essential for your pet’s health and wellbeing.

There are many types of commercial diet available and a suitable food should be used for the life stage of the bird, taking into account whether they are a breeding bird (these birds will require additional nutrients) and the exercise regime. Pelleted diets are preferable to seed based diets because selective feeding is not possible with a pellet. However, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered in addition to pellets or seeds. Many parrot species are prone to weight-gain and heart disease. It is therefore essential to limit food and treats that are high in fat (such as sunflower seeds and peanuts). We recommend no more than a few sunflower seeds per day and peanuts nor more than 2-3 times per week.  We recommend offering a range of natural foods, ideally spread around the aviary or enclosure at different levels to encourage foraging behaviour, or enclosed in foraging toys to increase the difficulty and reduce boredom. This should replace a portion of the commercial mixes. The type of fresh food will vary depending on the species of parrot and the country of origin, so please check carefully before offering foods, and contact us if you have any queries.  In general, safe fruit and vegetables include: peas, squash, watercress, spinach and broccoli in small quantities, peppers, sweetcorn, blueberries, grapes, oranges, apples, melon, various lettuce types and herbs etc. Avoid avocados, garlic and chocolate: these are toxic to many animals, including birds.

 

Smaller birds can be extremely susceptible to toxins stored in the seeds and skins of fresh foods. Please wash all fresh items thoroughly and use organic produce where possible.  Avoid feeding the stones of stone fruits such as cherries – these may contain cyanide toxins.

Food bowls must be kept clean between meals to prevent build-up of bacteria and moulds that can be detrimental to your pet’s health. Ensure that the bowls are both cleaned and disinfected every day. (We recommend F10 disinfectant). Food may be scattered at different levels around the enclosure to encourage foraging behaviour. This is recommended but again, environments must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent the build-up of harmful pathogens and to discourage pests such as rodents. Fresh foods should be removed after 12 hours.

2. Clean, fresh water must be available at all times.

Ensure that the bowl or feeder is cleaned every day to avoid build-up of debris, bacteria and algae. Some birds may prefer water that has been left out for 24 hours to remove fluoride if using tap water.

3. Enclosures should be made from safe materials that are specifically designed for birds.

Avoid metals which contain zinc (usually contained within galvanised wires) copper or lead, as these are highly toxic to birds. Stainless steel is considered to be safer but there are several companies specialising in parrot-safe cages, so it is best to buy from these. You should also ensure that the bars of the enclosure are spaced in such a way that your bird can’t trap their feet or other parts of the body, causing injury. Enclosures should be placed in a well-ventilated, non-draughty area, in a separate air space from cooking fumes and smoke. Hot oils, cooking smoke, candles smoke, Teflon and cigarette smoke are extremely dangerous to birds’ delicate respiratory systems, and many of these can cause death in as little as 24 hours.

Parrot species are highly sociable and will be happiest in an area where they are surrounded by family (such as the living room). However, the enclosures should be placed so that there is complete shelter on at least one side and birds are able to see approaching people – in this way, they can both hide but are not constantly experiencing a shock when somebody walks around the corner! Cages may be placed near windows but should be away from draughts and have shelter from direct sunlight.

4. Parrots produce a large volume of feather dust, with some species producing more than others.

All species should be bathed or sprayed on a daily basis with water at room temperature or a little warmer. Only plain water should be used, and bath times should be carried out during the warmest part of the day if birds are outdoors.

5. Clean, fresh bedding that is kept in small quantities in a dry, contained location (to prevent moulds building up) should be provided and must be cleaned and replaced on a daily basis.

Floor areas should be thoroughly cleaned every day and disinfected at least twice a week but ideally every day.

6. Environmental enrichment is essential in these species.

Some birds can display aggressive behaviour towards each other when bored and can inflict real damage. Food may be placed at various points around the aviary or enclosure to provide enrichment and to reduce competition. Bundles of weeds and grasses (if appropriate) may be tied together and suspended to provide edible toys. Toys should be provided – ensure that these are designed for parrots, as parrots can be extremely destructive, potentially causing themselves injury on broken toys. Toys should be rotated on a weekly basis to prevent boredom. Plenty of different hiding places and perches should be provided to avoid competition and provide a safe area. Perches should be of a variety of sizes, shapes and materials to allow different parts of the feet to be used at different times, preventing foot sores and ulcers from developing. When using wooden perches, ensure that these are from non-toxic trees that have not been treated with pesticides. Toxic or unsafe trees include Box Elder, Holly, Hemlock, Cherry, Apricot, Oak, Redwood and Yew. Natural wood perches are better than shop-bought, uniform perches because they allow more exercise for the feet as well as a material to chew.

7. Space to exercise: birds were not made to be captive – they were made to fly, and this is both an essential part of their defence mechanism as well as integral to psychological and physical health.

Minimum space requirements as specified by European law are that each bird should have space to perch, and to stretch to its full length or height in all directions. In reality, this is nowhere near enough space! Enclosures should be as large as space allows, both as floor space and in height to allow short flights. Birds which do not have access to a large aviary must have daily exercise within a bird-safe room indoors. You should bear in mind that these birds can be very destructive and create hazards for themselves! Ensure that all hazards such as electrical wires, appliances and equipment are kept away from your bird’s exercise environment. Other indoor hazards include toxic fumes, lead paint, air fresheners and scented candles.

8. A comfortable environmental temperature should be maintained.

The body temperature of a bird is much higher than of a mammal, and feathers provide excellent insulation. However, as many parrot species originate from countries close to the equator, they may not be able to withstand our UK winters without supplementary heating if in an outdoor aviary. Plenty of additional nesting materials should be provided for outdoor birds (that must be kept clean and dry), and heated boxes are an ideal way of maintaining temperatures in small areas rather than heating the entire aviary.

9. Ultraviolet light is essential for all birds

 It allows up-take and use of dietary calcium, which cannot occur in the absence of UV light. It is particularly important for laying birds. During warm sunny days, enclosures can be taken outdoors for your birds to make the most of the natural sunlight. On cooler or dreary days, an avian UV bulb should be provided for a minimum of 8 hours per day. Light must be shone from above the birds rather than from the side, and should coincide with normal daylight hours. It is essential that an avian UV bulb is used because the frequency of light emission from reptile bulbs may cause seizure in birds.

10. Ventilation is essential for your pet’s health:

 Poor ventilation in the housing is frequently the cause of respiratory infection both for indoor and aviary birds. Ventilation should not be confused with air movement! A source of fresh air should be supplied without compromising the ambient temperature, and without causing a draft to flow over your pet – please contact us for more information.

11. Birds should be protected from predators at all times, including any pets you may have!

This can be challenging when birds are flying indoors, so please keep them in a separate room during exercise sessions. It is imperative not to clip any wing feathers: flight is the only mechanism of defence available to birds and to remove this option causes an extreme level of stress. We strongly discourage clipping of wing feathers for this reason. However, pleas ensure that windows and doors are closed during flight times to prevent escape of your pet!

If using an outdoor aviary, birds should be protected from pests such as rodents and mites, which cause significant clinical disease as well as physical injury. Enclosures should be designed to minimise ease of access, and remaining food in bowls should be removed every day to discourage scavengers or kept out of reach of them. Hanging containers can be good options to prevent rodents and still allow birds to feed. Fresh branches should not be sourced in spring or autumn as these are more likely to have associated mites. If they are, branches should be thoroughly scrubbed (with a brush), cleaned with F10 and allowed to stand for several days before being used in the aviary.

 

Birds: Finches and other passerines

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